This report is intended to help inform public transit agencies, local governments and planning agencies, potential service operators and sponsors, and other stakeholders about private transit services and how they are addressing transportation needs in a variety of operating environments. The report provides an overview and taxonomy of the private transit services that exist in the United States today, as well as some sense of their present scope, operating characteristics, and how they may affect the communities they operate in.
This report entailed some three dozen interviews with topic experts, public agency representatives, and private transit service providers and sponsors, as well as a review of relevant regulations. Such an approach was essential since published information (regarding vehicles, routes, fare payment, schedules, technology, ridership, operating finances, and more) is generally not readily available for private transit services because large parts of the industry operate within private contractual relationships or as informal systems. Three case studies featured in this report examine how several jurisdictions have attempted to align private transit services with broader transportation goals while minimizing negative impacts.
Private transit services can complement existing public transit. The nature of the relationship ranges from complementary to substitutional, but the fact that the private services rarely exist without a nearby public system (either anchoring or parallel to the private service) suggests that private transit depends on the same fundamental conditions—particularly a density of users—that make for productive public transit. However, the extent to which private transit services complement public transit varies. Sometimes private transit serves as a premium alternative, operating along the same routes at the same peak hours as public transit.
Some private transit services divert drive-alone trips and may cause VMT reductions. Evidence that some private transit services substitute for private automobile trips is well established. Much of the evidence for drive-alone diversions comes from employer commuter shuttle programs, which are often offered as part of TDM programs implemented under local land-use or environmental regulations and require ongoing measurement of employee commute modes, as well as efforts to reduce drive-alone commutes over time.
Private transit can expand transportation access in underserved or hard-to-serve communities. Private transit services have the potential to expand access to specific geographic areas or demographic communities. In some cases, this could mean adding to the options already available. In other cases, it could mean that private transit provides the only viable option for some trips. Where demand exists, private transit may serve as a gap-filler geographically and also run at hours of the day when public transit is less frequent.